Feedback through storytelling to gain insight and write stronger grant proposals

Last week I illustrated one indirect way that I believe community voices can be heard by the powers that fund the non-profit world:


The steps in this process are:

  1. An organization whose mission is to serve thousands of nonprofits and make them more effective curates a collection of tens of thousands of stories from communities all across East Africa (our “test region”) about community work. Stories are told from the point of view of those affected, and “impact” is defined by whether they believed the community effort helped. (DONE!)
  2. These stories are made available online, free, and with a convenient searching and “data parsing” tool. The tool allows anyone to build a story collection about anything and drill down along a dozen different axes. (DONE!)
  3. A group of local nonprofit leaders, social scientists, and action researchers play around with the tool and push it to do as much as it can. Now is your opportunity to do this!

Go to and search for something that somebody in Kenya or Uganda might have told a story about:

Search Stories From Globalgiving Storytelling Project #1

The scope of what people talk about is broad. Here are just the questions people interested in the storytelling project have asked about via email in the last week:


How do Kenyan women talk about protesting the powerful? (Nigerian women speak of “dragging rights” in their pidgin)


I found that demon is a good match for demonstrate and demonstration and demonstrated. It is not suprising that older men (30+) speak of it more than women and kids, and that adults share stories that are more negative (outcomes) than the set of stories as a whole (N=58,000 or so) — hence they appear red. 32% of stories come from male youth 17-30 years old who are more positive in their stories.

But the question was about women, so I am going to back up to the power drill down page and select only the people whose stories I want (women):

demographic drill down #1

And the women’s perspective looks like this:


How about some REAL perspective? We still have 102 stories in this group of women protestors. I’ll add “actors/affected by” and first person perspective in the stories:

demographic drill down #2

Guess what? There are only 3 stories left. It’s not 57,000 stories. It’s just 3. But anybody has time to listen to these three people who are talking about the exact thing you are looking for. And this search process only took a few minutes:


Their stories:

The Memorable Moment Of My Life — NDU-MBUINI, NAIROBI ( RED CROSS- score:9

It all happened when i was in class five in the year 2009. All kenyans to the ballot box reason being to elect a new president. The material day for kenyans finally came. My parents had already gone to the polling station. I was at home all by myself waiting for mr.kivuitu to announce the rusult. At about twelve o’clock my parents came and sat anxiously in the living room for the results. At about four o’clock Mr.kivuitu announced the results and his excellency Emilio Stanley Mwai Kibaki had won. We were filled with joy as we all wanted Mr.kibaki to win. We celebrated and filled ourselves to the fullest. The celebration were put to a halt after we heard loud welcomed by a shot of the gun on the forehead. My mother and i screamed at the top of our voices but no one came to our rescue. We were dragged out of the house we pleaded with them but all our pleas fell on deaf ears. They threw us out and burnt the house to ashes. Everywhere in our village was dead people and scattered blood. People were demonstrating saying that kibaki had cheated in the elections. We went to live with the IDPs. My mother and i made houses of polythene papers . We were living in the cold and sleeping without food. We undergone many miserable things. After two years an organisation known as Red cross Society came to our rescue. They provided us with food and treated the sick. They had already built apartments for us IDPs. Tears of joy welled up our eyes. They came with four buses for taking us to the houses. We were provided with everything we needed. They payed all of our bills.they gave our parents jobs to provide for us. They built schools for us and taken to school. We lived in peace love and unity amongst ourselves. We thanked the Almighty Lord for us out of our miserable lives happy lives. We also thanked him for wiping our tears of sorrow away and bringing joy to my mother’s and i lives. We also sent the Red Cross Society a letter of thanks. Surely one should never lose hope in whatever situation you are in. One day someone might come and take you out of your miserable lives. Always trust inGod and let your faith be put in God and you will succeed

Poisoned Mind — BURUMBA, BUSIA ( INDIVIDUAL- score:8
My mother always told me bad things about men. She told me how men were beasts,demons,worthless people imbicites,selfish and all dirty stuff about men and this made me hate men and even fear them. Every night before we slept and every morning before I went to work she would remind me. In January, I met this man Solomon who proposed to me and because of what my mother had told me ,I declined the proposal. However this man persisted and with time I realised that I was missing something which my mother had not told me and also realised that not all men bared the characters my mother was telling me. I deeply fell in love with Solomon who helped me change my mind and realise that not all men are equal

Immediately I graduated, my father started introduce me to this man called Kelvin whom he wanted me to marry. He was so much into him such that at times he would call me and just tell me that I would never get disappointed if I married Kelvin and if I wanted his blessing then I should just accept him. To me I hated the so called Kelvin and I had no feelings for me at all and so I refused and rejected his proposal amid my fathers protests. When things got tough, my father didn’t want to see me and so I got out and started to live alone even up to date.

Okay – clearly one of these is about demons and not demonstrations, but there are 100 more stories that are from women that can provide a broader perspective.

two_2What do people say about corruption?

Corruption is not the most common word used in stories about corruption. But a little creative searching yields 655 stories. Drilling down by searching for one specific ORGANIZATION that fights corruption in Kenya yields 31 stories and a mix of positive and negative story outcomes, depending on which demographic is sharing it.

corruption-transparency KACC-anti-corruption-commission-stories

Who cares about KACC, the Kenyan Anti-Corruption Commission, even when they could talk about any subject in the world? Apparently male youth 17-30 years old and younger boys, though the younger boys are happier with KACC than the older youth.

Let’s ask a question that quantitative researchers never think to ask. Who is sharing stories about the solutions to corruption problem, and what are examples of success?


There aren’t many success stories, but it looks like women share more of the solutions while men speak about the problems. Here’s the top “scoring” (meaning – my algorithm thinks you’ll enjoy it) story about combating corruption:

Saved Form Losses — ILEHO, KAKAMEGA ( WSF- score:14
My family practises farming . they normally grow wheat surgacane and maize. Even majorly of the people in our practice the same methods of farming . Though this is the main activity that maintains the livelihood of the people the farmers haven’t been getting adiqucte profile as expected. this is majoty due to corrupt middlemen and also lack of proper channels for transmission of the harvest to the market. This had resulted into seven losses, either the harvest nothing in the gronaries. Lucky a certain NGO indented the problem and came up with a means to help . They sensitivities farmers on the need to have co-operative society to easily market their produce. The organisation went a head to construct a co- operative society for the farmers and thus fears are now able to to market their produce and hence get good income without incurring huge losses for the farmers.

Seems like this WSF organization did something that mattered to somebody in the community. Just think if WSF was trying to write their next grant proposal about the importance of their work? Couldn’t they reference this 3rd party report, along with 39 other relevant stories to fill out a good pre-evaluation sample for their next grant?

threeWhat do people talk about in Kibera and Mathare slums?

Well, you can search by location or organization as well as by topic:

kibera mathare

And although most slum stories are more negative than the collection as a whole, stories about particular organizations in these two slums (Carolina for Kibera and Community Transformers) are more positive:

carolina-for-kibera mathare-comm-transformersI was surprised to see girls underrepresented in stories about Carolina for Kibera. But if you search to the local name Binti Pamoja – which is their girls-empowerment-sports program, you find them:


fourWhat about education for girls in these Nairobi slums?

There are a staggering 18,623 stories about school to begin with (30% of the whole!), and they are neither too positive or too negative, though young girls are very happy to be in school.

Note that with HUGE datasets, the tool will aggregate stories into meta categories for you to see the bigger picture. Are you interested in ugandan orphans and school? Perhaps you meant school and mother child relationships? Or the surprising connection between school and insecurity!

school stories kenya-uganda 18632 school-nairobi-girls

Of these, 863 stories are from girls in Nairobi. Notice that something happens between age 16 and 21 for girls. The stories turn negative. These are stories of girls being denied the opportunity to pursue their education. You can further drill down to exactly those stories:

12 stories from women denied education college nairobi

The Day I Will Never Forget — AYANY KIBERA, NAIROBI ( INDIVIDUAL- score:14
This happened when I was in primary school, more than two years ago. I was doing when but it came a time when I was in class six in term three. We were about to do our end of term exam is when my mother and father separated apart. I had to take of my siblings as I am the first borne. My father came to kibera to look for a job but he was not successful he just got someone to help him with shelter and clothings. Years came to pass and I got myself doing K. C. P. E but I was hopeless I didnt have school fee for secondary school. I passed my K. C. P. E exam well with 290 marks but didnt get school fee still. It came a time just when form ones have already joinerd secondary schools that some one told my father that he know a scholarship in kibera where I can learn. But now I have no where to go after finishing secondary education.

My Education Life — SOWETO-KAYOLE, NAIROBI ( INDIVIDUAL- score:12
When I was in school I used to work hard in all my way I finished my primary education very well and passed. With three hundred and twenty marks but the but thing came across in my life I didn’t get a school fee to continue with my education but by good luck a good person with good heart took me in secondary school where I finished my school

Dream Big Dreams — , NAIROBI ( INDIVIDUAL- score:11
”Dream big dreams and have unfailing confidence in yourself”, my mother always told me and unfailing confidence. I did have been a first yr student in high school, i greatly admired the senior, mostly because of their ability to express themselves without fear. They interacted with each other freely and of course very few talked to the seniors. In high school every one wants to be famous. My best friend Sylvia Okwemba was one of the best suffering from an intense desire to be known admirable and even adored by some. Sylvia did not talk to me most of the time because i kept myself a part from her because i realize that she was the one who took over when i resigned.

The 2-story rule provides a “within-subjects” reference frame for context on any subject.

And those 154 reference stories are an important “within subjects” benchmark for any qualitative research. Before you can say something is important, you need to know what ELSE is important to the people who are giving stories.


Next month I’ll be adding more features to further illustrate the topics that emerge from stories (with pretty pictures, so that you don’t even need to read to get the main idea).

But in the meanwhile, please test the tool out and suggest new features. I’ll set up a trello board for your feedback here:

trello story drill down

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